Reflecting on the Best Films of 2023

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The poster of SINEDKOKS' best films of 2023 showcasing Lily Gladstone, Cillian Murphy, and Margot Robbie

This blog was still fresh when I first started making the first entry of SINEKDOKS’s Best of series. The date was December 31 and the year was 2013. I remember it was the year when I put Alfonso Cuarón‘s Gravity at the top of the list. A few moments later, a decade has flown by. Suddenly, this year has marked the tenth entry in the series.

Ten. Fuckin’. Years. I’ve been making the list in various formats and lengths. I’ve seen how my taste in films changed over the years. Ironically, 2023 hasn’t been my most prolific year of first-viewing. I skipped entire four months of theatrical releases (some of them I finally caught on the streaming service, though). But, I bounced back strong to finally able to make this list.

So, here’s the list of Best Films of 2023.

Honorable mention:

Honorable mentions

Evil Dead Rise knots Lee Cronin‘s penchant for family horror with the franchise mayhem by combining Sam Raimi‘s lore-heavy world with Fede Alvarez‘s blood-gushing legacy. The result is the kind of groovy that blends those elements perfectly – wreaking havoc at every turn just to keep us at the edge of the seat and taunting us just to keep us staring.

Next on the line is Jeff Rowe‘s take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Mutant Mayhem is a risk that pays off. Sliding head-first onto the 90s nostalgia and all the pop-culture bonanza (acknowledging that it also aims for younger audiences detached from the era’s zeitgeist), this new rendition makes use of its stylish animation to craft something super exhilarating – reminding me of how Into the Spider-Verse when it first emerged.

John Carney also makes his marks on the 2023 best films roster with the Dublin-bound Flora & Son. It’s a more mature foray into the director’s songwriter universe, which seems like a result of his song-less tenure in Modern Love. Through this lo-fi drama, the director finds a house to write a captivating full-studio album that connects people – the lonely ones, the broken ones, the hopeful ones. Even when it’s not always a compilation of the greatest hits; still it will make you wanna grab the guitar and jam a little.

There will be no list of best films of 2023 without a single entry from David Fincher as long as he’s still making gripping films. The Killer (stylized as The K__.ller) is worth the shoutouts. While unusually deadpan but nuanced, the thriller showcases the director’s playful take on a rather familiar hitman story by utilizing Michael Fassbender‘s perfectly matched charisma and muted tones in visuals – which complement the muted narrative.

Almost making it to the top 10 list is Todd Haynes‘ seducing May December. No one makes a film quite like Haynes. This high camp acts on multiple layers at once. Julianne Moore portrays a fictional version of a tabloid sensation and Natalie Portman digs deep into her fictitious psyche – trying to portray her and, as the audiences might have been doing as well, trying to delve deep into her motivation. The film treads on sensationalism lightly – making it a somber yet playful dark comedy that often depicts its uncomfortable theme with perversion and subversion lingering upon.

10. How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Daniel Goldhaber)

The cast of How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Call it “How We Learned to Start Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Goldhaber’s interpretation of Andreas Malm‘s dialogical non-fiction book musters up this generation’s guts to revolt in pursuit of environmental justice. The film’s thought-provoking discourse compliments its thrilling nature laden with a sense of urgency that works like Steven Soderbergh‘s classics. We can feel how the youthful protagonists’ exhaustion from the higher-ups’ protracting ecological promise; and, when all else fails, we can feel the urge to sabotage the pipelines to take back the future and retaliate for what we lost in the ecological warfare against oligarchs. Radical as it may seem, this big middle finger of a film is super-satisfying.

09. Jatuh Cinta seperti di Film-Film (Yandy Laurens)

Nirina Zubir in Jatuh Cinta seperti di Film-Film a.k.a. Falling in Love like in Movies

Have you known people who are so deeply in love that all they can do is tell us about it? That’s what seems to happen to Laurens in his recent tenure. He’s deeply in love with films and filmmaking – romcoms, especially. We can feel the excitement he exudes when making this film about making film about someone who’s in love with films (and a real girl). Making use of the eight-sequence narrative quite figuratively, Jatuh Cinta seperti di Film-Film (Falling in Love like in Movies) knows the game. However, beyond the high-concept narrative, there’s something more primordial in it. There’s love, so deep, so personal you can feel it. Love for people, love for films.

08. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson)

Spider-Man Across the Spider-verse

The new Spider-Man film is practically a build-up for a more intriguing, all-out multiversal spectacle that is about to come. Yet, it stands tall and proud on its own.

Christopher Miller and Phil Lord take the backseat now; but, that doesn’t make the whole foray less enticing. This versatile sequel takes everything they did right (all the winning formula) and works on what could’ve been done better in the first film to a whole new level. Miles Morales has gone across the impossible zone and made it out alive; that’s how to set up a sequel to set up a highly anticipated sequel.

07. The First Slam Dunk (Takehiko Inoue)

Ryoya Miyagi in The First Slam Dunk

This is not just nostalgia; it’s everything. The manga creator, Takehiko Inoue (also writing Vagabond), orchestrates the return of this highly anticipated series that follows up immediately after the anime series ended a long time ago. Throwing it right into the Shannoh game might be the bravest and cleverest move to pull. Yet, the ultimate stunt is no less surprising (in all the good way). Inoue sets out to pivot the narrative through the mind of side-character, Ryota Miyagi, to frame Shohoku’s hive-mind – that everyone has been longing for. Miyagi is the team’s point guard; he carries the ball and progresses it across the field in a spell-binding move. That’s what this film is about.

06. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (Kelly Fremon Craig)

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

Among flashier, more complicated films that made up most of the best 2023 films list, there’s always this little, unpretentious film that sparks warmth slipping in under the radar. In 2023, that film is Kelly Fremon Craig‘s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. As innocent as how the title suggests, Craig‘s follow-up to the frank Edge of Seventeen is another candid coming-of-age story that navigates through life, faith, and puberty with celebrations of little things. Oh, that feeling of being young and clueless. This is a testament to those moments that we will soon cherish with every emotion available.

05. Barbie (Greta Gerwig)

Best Films of 2023: Barbie by Greta Gerwig, starring Margot Robbie

The first part of the so-called Barbenheimer is here. Greta Gerwig’s take on the Mattel doll series is such a revelation. While redefining the based-on-toys film adaptation in a way that has never been done before, it tackles what would’ve been a walk on eggshells (which kind of proves its point) with ease. Gerwig confidently uses the line of toys as an idea rather than a product – in doing so earning its humor and irony in a subversive way, incorporating Margot Robbie‘s charm and Ryan Gosling‘s unstoppable Kenergy. The whole Barbie bonanza is a clever Feminism 101 that will make even the most bitter anti-feminist flinch or even nod unconsciously.

04. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan)

Cillian Murphy starring in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, one of the best films of 2023

The second part of Barbenheimer is precision filmmaking manifested. The biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer is carefully calculated from start to finish. All 180 minutes feel highly calibrated narratively and stylistically to send us inside the titular character’s exploding mind. Ain’t it mind-blowing? While it might seem like Nolan overdoing it a notch with the non-linear narrative, the framing is valiant — highlighting the titular character’s moral qualms. My reading of it is best described by picturing the immediate aftermath of the Trinity test. The thrill, the awe, and the delayed shockwaves – carried perfectly by Cillian Murphy. At that very moment, we can see the wonder, the fear, the confusion, and how he internally processed all the possibilities.

03. Monster (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Hirokazu Kore-eda's Monster

The winner of the Best Screenplay award at Canner, Monster, is indeed a masterwork. Kore-eda works on Yuji Sakamoto‘s script (the first time he does so since 1995) with pure sense and sensibility. The narrative sways through a series of events – shifting between judgments and manipulating perspectives – in a way that reminds us of Rashomon. Deep underneath the layer of sophisticated yet unpretentious narrative, there’s a beautifully tender story waiting to be unraveled – about humanizing humans amongst monstrosities we keep telling ourselves. Monster keeps challenging our moral stance, keeping us on the verge of judging ourselves for being judgmental; but, the director patiently tells us to keep looking, to keep feeling until we find out that we’re worth redeeming. This is utterly beautiful.

02. Past Lives (Celine Song)

Celine Song's Past Lives starring Greta Lee is one of the best films released in 2023

What separates Celine Song‘s Past Lives from similar films is the capability for self-control. The narrative remains grounded in reality – to actual feelings. However, it’s easy to admire it for its restraint – for not being self-indulgent, regardless of the gravity of the situation. The film is a sublime yet subtle reflection on how adults cling to the past tenderly, a bit too tender sometimes, but never dwell on it. With a gentle performance from the protagonist trio (led by Greta Lee) and subtle dialogues that often sting, Song‘s directorial debut envelops a question of the endless should-haves and would-haves beautifully – without succumbing to the deep end.

01. Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese)

Best Films of 2023 is Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone

When Martin Scorsese says “cinema,” then, it is cinema. “It’s my whole life, and that’s it,” he says; and, boy, how I should take that as holy verses. Killers of the Flower Moon is another testament to his love for cinema – for all the craftsmanship it takes to make a beautiful, staggering piece of cinema. It’s only natural to get overwhelmed by the whole production, the stunning performance by the star-studded casts (from Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro, to the ever-mesmerizing Lily Gladstone), the harrowing narrative and, especially, the massive duration. Yet, worry not, masterful Scorsese takes all the time to finesse all those points to craft not only an experience but also, a cinematic virtue. This is what cinema is about.

The recap

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